Machiavelli, Elizabeth I and the Innovative Historical Self: A Politics of Action, not Identity

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To contribute to contemporary debates about the human self, historical constitutedness and capacity for critical agency, I turn to Niccolo Machiavelli's account of human virtuosity. There I retrieve a vision of political action that centres on a critically conscious intelligence or 'I' engaged in the continual fracturing and manipulation of identity. Machiavelli shows this critical intelligence to be something developed by way of a mental standpoint I call critical in-betweenness -- a disposition that imperfectly enables positive political innovation. To account for what proves to be a non-modernist Machiavellian view of a multiplicitous and capacious self, I turn to one of Machiavelli's ancient influences, Cicero, and his theory of four personae. I then further illuminate such virtuoso capacities for political innovation by way of a case study, Elizabeth Tudor of England. Finally, I briefly link this discussion to late/post-modern political and social theory, and to issues of democratic citizenship and education.

Keywords: Cicero; Elizabeth I; Elizabeth Tudor; Machiavelli; Renaissance England; Renaissance Italy; Tudor England; agency; citizenship; education; feminist theory; gender; identity; personae; self; virtu

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Political Science, C472-1866 Main Mall, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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